Stereotyping the unemployed has become fashionable and I for one am tired of being the poster boy. In recent conversations with other unemployed in Spokane, and reading online blogs, the idea of being stereotyped appears to be a common thread. It’s hard to break that opinion. We know that our unemployment is a direct correlation to the horrendous job market and failed economic policies, but that is not what the public perceives.
So why is the simple fact of admitting to friends and family that we are unemployed so traumatic? Why does it hurt so much? Why does that gut feeling of being a failure never go away? When canvassed, most employees would state they were good employees that their unemployment was due to a reduction of force or a business closing. So why the guilt?
We have bought into the fairness doctrine, a system that says that in exchange for being loyal and doing a good job for the company you will be rewarded with a fair wages, longevity , benefits and respect. This unwritten social contract has been blown into the stratosphere by corporations needing to appease their stockholders. The workers are now viewed as labor units that must be tightly controlled.
This fracturing of the employer/employee social contract has deceived the employee. Our jobs became who we are, they became our identity, and for many of us they were our mistresses, a tireless taskmaster where we spent the majority of our time, sacrificing our families, our soul for its success.
Thus when we find ourselves unemployed by the very system we devoted our lives to, we are lost, we are betrayed, our primary purpose of our life is gone, and worse yet, we have lost our identity. At family gatherings or social functions, when the inevitable question about my employment status comes up, I usually attempt to minimize my response. But my gut tells me what I already know. These people feel sorry for me, and some even believe that I AM that guy who sits around in his pajamas collecting unemployment checks.
The silent suffering that virtually all the unemployed workers of America share has become our new norm. Fear, depression, feeling of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts converge on us daily. We suffer in silence for our identity has been stripped away. Whatever dignity and pride we had is now gone courtesy of our visits to the local food bank and shelter. We can’t afford visits to a psychologist for we have no insurance, we can’t take medication, we can’t afford to buy it. We can’t talk to our employed friends so we take solace in social networking, hungering for human intervention.
Our numbers continue to grow, 30,000-60,000 people are exhausting their unemployment benefits weekly, running out of whatever financial options they once had. Shelters, food banks, social services cannot keep up with the growing numbers, so many unemployed are living in a way that was incomprehensible for many of us just two years ago.
This may be our current reality, but it is not our final reality. Americans have been through tough times before. We will get through this. Cling to your family tighter than you have ever clung before. Share meals, ideas, and laughter with friends, or make new ones and laugh with them. Volunteer, you feel better helping others, and most of all talk, to your neighbors, to your kids…scream, but know this, and repeat this quote from Dr. Robert Schuler often, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do!”